Sports supplements: What you need to know!

By Angela Bentley

May 2015

Sports supplements are products often used to enhance athletic performance or to meet the additional requirements that may be demanded by an athlete. They may include macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats), vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, or botanicals (plants) — or any concentration, extract, or combination of these; and are generally available to anybody over the counter. They can be further divided into 3 groups:

Sports foods: convenient alternatives to food which provide nutrients found in food and serve to help meet sports nutrition goals. Such products include sports drinks, bars, gels and liquid meal supplements.

Dietary supplements: vitamin and mineral supplements which are used to treat deficiencies or inadequacies in the diet. These should only be used after consultation with a doctor or sports dietician.

Ergogenic aids: nutrients or food components in larger amounts than would generally be found in food. These claim to directly affect performance by enhancing mechanisms within the body. Many of these are not proven to be effective, but some such as creatine, caffeine, buffers, proteins and essential amino acids are well proven to provide desirable effects.

Whether chatting to professional sportsmen or members of my gym classes, I am always surprised (and quite alarmed) by the way many people perceive dietary supplements to be the most important part of their nutrition regimen.

As the name suggests, supplements are meant to SUPPLEMENT but not substitute a healthy diet. The diagram below demonstrates the value of various strategies in sports nutrition. You will see that maximising performance requires a foundation of balanced and suitable eating. Sports foods certainly have their place in meeting requirements before, during and after exercise, while ergogenic aids, if required at all are there to provide a small boost or advantage.


While there are ingredients which are proven to be beneficial in sports nutrition, it is important to note that there is a lack of regulation governing the supplement industry. One should be aware that there are many misconceptions and risks that surround the industry, particularly ergogenic aids.

Here are some common beliefs about supplements, which are actually not at all true:

  1. Products must be safe, legal or effective:
    • If bought through a “well-known” or “reputable” seller.
    • If proven benefits are mentioned and it is stated that the product is ‘tested’ and ‘safe’.
    • If no banned and/or harmful substances are listed on the label.
    • If the label says it is ‘natural’ (or herbal).
  2. Active sports people cannot get everything they need from a healthy, balanced diet
  3. Nutrients from supplements are superior to those obtained from eating wholesome foods.
  4. Competitors or top sports people are using a product, therefore I should be using it too.

What are the risks?

Due to the lack of regulation, supplements are frequently not labelled correctly. We therefore cannot be assured of the ingredients contained within the packaging. As a result allergic reactions, illness, toxicity, or even overdosing on harmful substances can occur.

Often supplements purposefully or inadvertently contain substances banned in sport without stating so on the packaging. This could lead to positive tests for banned substances and result in a sports career being cut short.

Due to a lack of testing, side effects are often not known or stated. Certain substances which have been found in supplements have the ability to change your metabolism or even hormonal levels, putting you at risk of various adverse health effects such as heart disease, depression, cancer and many others.

Minimising the risk:

Okay, so now you know the risks associated with supplements, but you are still looking for the “boost” that I referred to earlier. Use these tips to lower your risk.

  • Limit or minimise the use of supplements. Just because an unregulated supplement claims to be able to help you, doesn’t mean it will. Make use of reputable resources to find out if it is the right product for you.  Visit for a summary of what ingredients have been proven effective and what you should avoid.
  • Even if a product is effective it is always advisable to consult with a dietician or sports physician before choosing a supplement. They will be able to give you better insight into the required dosage, product safety, form of the ingredient, interactions with other medications/nutrients, contraindications etc.
  • An effective supplement may still not be necessary for you. Always consider if you can get the same benefit from food, if so food is always the better option.
  • Phone or mail the company selling the product and ask questions.
  • Look out for Informed-Choice and Informed-Sport marks on labels:

These are certification programmes for sports supplements, ingredients and manufacturing facilities, which assures athletes that products carrying these marks have been regularly tested for substances considered prohibited by WADA (World Anti-doping Agency).They also ensure that products have been manufactured to high quality standards.

Did you know: FUTURELIFE® High Protein SmartFood is endorsed by Informed Choice, giving you everything that you need for effective exercise recovery without the risk. Take note that many of the FUTURELIFE® products can be used as effective meals or snacks throughout the day, helping to take the guess work out of healthy eating.



High Protein SmartFood